Girls Behaving Gladly

It’s a perilous journey these days to go from girlhood to adolescence.  As a therapist, I see the roadblocks that young girs have to navigate  in order to make it to young adulthood with their self-esteem intact.  Whether it is the bombardment from the media of unrealistic body images or the overly mature roles models that are offered up, these young girls have a lot to contend with.   They endure a great deal of pressure at a time when they need a great deal of space to just be young.

So. it was with great pleasure that I watched girls behaving gladly in a local talent show competition.

I had the opportunity to watch the semi-finals of Delco Idol Jr last Sunday night.   The singing competition was held at the Media Theatre in Media, PA and was an all girl semi-final.  The remaining boys had been eliminated the week before and now a select group of 18 was left to battle it out for the final 15 spots.

I was touched and inspired by what I saw that evening and it had nothing to do with the actual competition.   What struck me was the range of girls who performed one by one alone on the stage.  From seven years old to thirteen, they came in all shapes and sizes.   Some sold their  musical numbers with the confidence of a veteran performer.  Others walked to the center of the stage, planted their feet and just sang their hearts out.   I admired their their courage and noted their innocence.

When interviewed by the master of ceremonies, they spoke of their favorite music or pets.  They dedicated songs to their grandmothers and grandfathers and proudly showed of hair do’s styled by mothers and aunts.   They giggled and shyly waved to family members in the audience who came with signs and glow sticks to cheer them on.

When the group going on to the finals was announced one by one, they hugged each other and held hands.   They were young girls shining in the spot light with no pressure to be anything else but who they were-just girls.

Body-Mind Believers

I had a wonderful year end dinner the other night with a special group of women. During the year, we meet on a regular basis to offer support and encouragement both persoanlly and professionaly. We share of variety of interests and a singular belief in the importance of the body-mind connection.

Over our dinner we had an impassioned discussion about the the lack of information that is presented to public around weight and body image issues. Each of us in our practices, a registered dietician specializing in eating disorders, a holistic counselor who uses nutrition to heal chronic health issues, a movement specialist who uses body awareness to help women reclaim their bodies and myself, a therapist specializing in the body-mind connection all have witnessed the pain our clients go through when they are disconnected from their emotional selves. We understand the pain and punishment women go through when they put themselves on another diet or exercise program that inevitably fails.

Our unified goal is to help people make the important connection that there is no avoidance of feeling when you are trying to heal your physial state. I know personally that making the body an ally instead of an enemy is one of the most powerful ways you can change your emotional state. My group of friends and colleagues are determined to get that message out to the world by helping our clients heal. Through teaching, speaking and writing we will continue to offer information and hope to those who are looking for a different way.

We are body-mind believers.

Oprah’s Pain-What lies beneath?

Oprah has publicly shared her recent weight gain along with her feelings of embarrassment and anger towards herself. Her public acknowledgement is that she did not make herself a priority or include herself on her to do list.

I hope that Oprah takes the time to understand what lies beneath the weight gain. Besides healthy food choices and exercise, when we gain substantial amounts of weight, it is mainly because of emotional pain. As long as there  are no known medical problems,  gaining weight  has to do with the management of feelings.  Anger and embarrassment might be the surface responses and they certainly are legitimate to feel.

But what lies beneath the weight gain?  What does the weight represent emotionally?

In my experience as a therapist, an inside out approach to weight management is the only way to heal  the yo yo weight gain/loss cycle. Discovering what is eating you and then making choices to work through the emotional stuckness is what will allows you to take the actions you need.

My message to Oprah and anyone else struggling with weight issues is, before you take on another diet or exercise plan, get a take on your life. Take the time to understand, and accept what is out of balance and then with great compassion, ask yourself what it is you need to provide the best self-care in mind, body, and spirit. That is the only way to heal what lies beneath.

How to Stretch

I was riding home last night on the subway and glanced over to the woman next to me.  She was reading something called, How to Stretch.  From the pictures, I saw that it was a manual on how to stretch the muscles in the human body.  The page showed a person bending and reaching in a variety of poses.  It seemed that there were many different ways to stretch and lengthen parts of the body.  It all depended on what you wanted to do.

Wouldn’t the same principals be applicable to how we stretch emotionally and psychologically?

From the many exercise classes I have taken over the years, the principals of stretching that I’ve learned are; 1) Warm up the body through some kind of movement  2) Slowly start to stretch your muscles while paying attention to any sign of discomfort 3) Challenge yourself to reach beyond your normal range of movement.

I believe and have witnessed the same principals in emotional, psychological and spiritual change.  At first, we need to warm up to the idea that change is happening or needs to happen.  This may be that quiet voice inside that starts to get louder and questions the state of your life.  You might start to feel restless, anxious or impatient with how things are.  You begin to think about what doesn’t feel right or how the things that used to fulfill you no longer do.  Slowly, you are warming up to the idea of change.

The second thing that occurs, after you warm up, is exploration.  Now that you realize that things need to change, you start to to explore what it is that needs to shift.  You may talk with others about your need for change.  You may look at classes, new job opportunities or relationships.  You then start to take steps towards these different areas.  While you are doing this, you probably will feel a level of discomfort.  You are doing new things and are exercising different aspects of your personality.  You feel the unfamiliar as you try new ways of being.

Finally, you move out of your comfort zone.  You notice that you are doing and acting in a new way.  While there may be intermittent fear and sometimes surprising pain, you realize that you are experiencing life differently.  You have expanded beyond your normal range of living.  Once that happens, you have fully stretched-until it’s time to do it again.

I belive we need apply the same type of care we do when we stretch our muscles as we do when stretching our souls.  Respect the need to warm up to the idea.  Accept that it will feel uncomfortable.  Challenge yourself to move beyond what is familiar .

After all, once you know that things need to change, it’s usually all ready started.

What are we trying to manage?

I read a piece in the November, 18th, New York Times Magazine, which was written by Stephen Dunbar and Steven Levitt. The article entitled, Freakonomics; The Stomach Surgery Conundrum (see full article) was mainly the writers’ view on the rise of gastric bypass surgery as a weight loss solution. What jumped out for me in the article were the following words.

“The operation often produces complications — physiological ones, to be sure, but also perhaps psychological ones. A significant fraction of postbariatric patients acquire new addictions like gambling, smoking, compulsive shopping or alcoholism once they are no longer addicted to eating. In certain cases, some people also learn to outfox the procedure by taking in calories in liquid form (drinking chocolate syrup straight from the can, for instance) or simply drinking and eating at the same time.”

As a body-mind psychotherapist, this makes perfect sense as to why this occurs. Unless the reasons for overeating are resolved or at least understood, the person will turn to another type of behavior in order to manage their feelings. A majority of the time the person won’t be aware that the urge to gamble, drink, or shop is connected to feelings. Most people who struggle with compulsive behavior describe the urge to overeat, drink or shop as an overwhelming need-they feel compelled to engage in these behaviors. In fact, in my experience, the compulsive activity initially provides a release from the unconscious yet built up emotional feelings in the body.  (For more on how and why emotions get held in the body, check out an article I contributed to at msnbc.com).  However, since the compulsive activities don’t reach the emotional root of what someone needs to express, the need to “binge” in some form or another starts again.  

 

It’s important to remember that most people don’t want to turn to destructive behaviors to cope. They inevitably feel shame and guilt for  being out of control and are harsh in their view of themselves. But often these coping mechanisms developed because it was the only resource the person had to comfort or nurture themselves. They had to find a way to manage the emotional pain either from the past or the present. Until there is an emotional and psychological understanding by the person about what they are feeling, what caused it and ultimately some healing, the desire to manage feelings through self destructive behavior will rise again.    

Whether a person decides on gastric bypass surgery or not, finding a therapist or support group is a key element in understanding the deep feelings that drove the need to overeat in the first place.  

Does Love Conquer All?

In working with couples, I have experienced the highs and lows of people in love.  It’s actually an honor to witness the determination some couples have in healing their relationships. They arrive in therapy with their hearts hurting and their hopes diminished-looking for something to create a spark. They sit in front of me divided-part of them has given up and part of them wants to try.

In watching the HBO series, Tell Me You Love Me, I am pleased to see how the therapeutic process is shown in a rare light. The couples depicted in the series believe they are in love yet in therapy, when that love is examined, the pain in their relationship emerges. It is a shock for them and for many real life couples to realize that love itself does not conquer all.  It does not conquer issues such as mistrust, broken promises, emotional or physical abuse. In my experience, consistent action combined with love is what heals those wounds.

Alexander Lowen, the well known bioenergetic therapist said that love blossoms with security. The security in knowing that when someone tells you they will be faithful, true to their word and present in the relationship, then that is what they will be. It’s not a matter of expecting perfection; it’s a matter of knowing that the person you love is someone you can have healthy dependence on. Healthy dependency occurs when you believe and know from experience that the person you are involved with will behave in a trustworthy manner a majority of the time. This is not to be confused with co-dependency, which is the giving up of your sense of self for the needs of another person. Healthy dependency provides couples with the comfort of knowing that someone else respects and yes loves you enough to honor your needs. 

Couples who communicate what they want from each other and understand the importance of action plus love, can create a strong foundation. In the long run, knowing that another person has your best interests at heart goes along way towards having a healthy relationship.  

False Yet Familar Security Blankets

Many times I have had clients who after months or years of self growth, go back to an old way of behaving. This could be calling an old boyfriend, girlfriend, pattern of eating or drinking that is usually destructive. The interesting part is that the “back tracking” often happens at a time when the client is changing or going through a period of personal expansion.  Why then would they turn to something that would impede their progress? 

Why?  Because change, no matter how much we want it, invites both excitement and fear.  The excitement is great. The fear? Unexpected. There is a vulnerability that occurs with change and with it a level of anxiety. We step out of our comfort zone and stretch in ways we have longed for. You would think that achieving what we have dreamed of would cause happiness. Well, it does but it also shifts the familiar emotional landscape of who we are and we can feel the loss of our identity. This is often when we want to turn to false yet familiar security blankets. Those old relationships and behaviors that defined who we were. We “know” ourselves with that person from our past or while doing that destructive behavior.  There is fleeting comfort in immersing ourselves in the old way of being and it’s a way to manage the anxiety of change. 

Next time you find yourself wanting to turn to old destructive patterns of behavior, ask yourself, does the fantasy of what it will give you match the reality of what it will give you?  Will you get what you want or are you just hoping to get what you want?  Then ask yourself what it is that you really looking for to feel less anxious or scared.  Once you identify what it is you need, see if you can reach out or provide for yourself the healthy support you are really looking for.